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In a new report by Indian multinational corporation Mahindra, Indian consumers want to make sustainable lifestyle choices but are blocked by lack of accessibility and affordability. Rather than lacking climate consciousness, the report outlines how action for the planet is currently being stifled in the second most populous country in the world due to the prices of sustainable products and services. This analysis follows previous studies that have shown the same phenomena, indicating that if we are to mobilise mass climate action for our planet, which is more urgent than ever before, businesses and governments must make it economical for everyone, not just for the few.
According to the Mahindra Group’s recent 2019 report titled “Alternativism”, the problem around sustainable alternatives is pricing, with the majority of Indian consumers wanting to take planet-friendly action but perceive these eco-friendly alternatives as too expensive or not effective. While only 4% of survey respondents said lack of environmental awareness influenced their unsustainable habits, 88% of Indian consumers believe that sustainable alternatives would be unaffordable.
Even more stark was the result that 89% were willing to address climate change more actively if companies offered alternative solutions. These findings are based on the answers of more than 2,000 participants in major Indian cities, including Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru.
Researchers found that the use of plastic was where the issue was most prevalent. Despite 80% of participants saying that they were aware of the environmental damage of plastic, only 27% were able to find affordable and effective substitutes.
Commenting on these findings, chief sustainability officer of Mahindra, Anirban Ghosh, said that we need to “move onto questions like how can the awareness and supply of available alternatives be increased?”
What this report indicates is that it is not that consumers are unaware that their decisions make an impact. It is that they remain motivated by price in order to choose the more sustainable option. If these results are to provide a basis for policy, it would be that companies and governments need to support business models that are sustainable in order to lower price and promote widespread adoption of these alternatives compared to conventional, cheaper options. “We need an ecosystem where both regulations and technologies can help willing individuals do what they’re already willing to do,” explained Ghosh.
Mahindra’s report mirrors previous studies that have come to similar conclusions. As we recently reported, greener lifestyle choices still come down to unit economics: when we make one eco-friendly decision over another, our individual incentive stems from price rather than moral persuasion. In a 2018 University of Chicago study conducted in Japan, individuals only chose to commit to energy-conserving behaviour if the other less planet-friendly option came with a higher cost.
In the face of our worsening ecological crisis, which is set to hit Asia the hardest, our system that currently provides to consumers responsible and sustainable options that are cost-inefficient simply won’t work. Despite some sectors showing change, such as the affordability of solar energy in key Chinese cities, much of the shift across all product and service categories has not yet happened. Governments and businesses must instigate change on a structural level to make sustainable alternatives affordable to the masses in order to inspire much-needed individual action.
Lead image courtesy of All India Consumers.